Photo by Herb Sparrow
Published February 07, 2014
“The four main industries are the four F’s — fishing, forestry, farming and folks [tourism],” Lisa Bullerwell, a guide for Atlantic Tours, said about the Canadian Maritimes.
Last summer, during a 13-day trip with Atlantic Tours, my wife, Marcheta, and I sampled plenty of the first industry and saw numerous trees and farms while providing the fourth element to the “Four F’s” economy of the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Checking off one of my bucket list places to visit, I was thoroughly taken by the area’s beautiful natural scenery, fascinating history, charming culture and delicious seaborne cuisine.
Leaving Halifax, Nova Scotia, our jumping-off point, our motorcoach initially headed up four-lane Highway 2. Locals call limited-access roads “the highway”; thus, when we turned onto the two-lane road known as the Glooscap Trail, Bullerwell informed us, “We will take the scenic route instead of the highway.”
We passed wooded ridgelines and large fields of wild blueberries, which are smaller and sweeter than traditional blueberries. Although called “wild,” they are cultivated and are a major farm crop. “Eastern Canada is the second-largest producer in the world after Maine,” said Bullerwell.
We stopped for a catered lunch of soup and sandwiches at Joggins Fossil Cliffs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where unique 300 million-year-old fossils are found in cliffs and beaches fronting the Bay of Fundy.
“Some of the fossils found here have not been found anywhere else in the world,” said Bullerwell.
Interpreter Sarah Hiller led us down a steep path to the beach, where she showed us fossils of plants, reptiles and amphibians and let us roam around the rocky beach to hunt for more.
“We are constantly finding new fossils,” said Hiller.
Bay of Fundy
The first part of our trip focused on the Bay of Fundy, famous for its tides, which are the highest in the world. Driving along another scenic route through southern New Brunswick from our overnight stay in Moncton, we caught glimpses of the bay before arriving at Hopewell Rocks, where the full force of the bay’s tides was evident.
At low tide, you can walk on the ocean floor beneath the large, distinctively shaped rock formations. However, it was high tide when we arrived, and the chocolate-colored water was nearly to the top of the four-story arched opening in the rocks.
The tide at the rocks ranges from 32 to 40 feet. “Today, it is 38 feet,” said Jon Michael Keirstead, an interpreter at the site.
Driving to Saint John for a two-night stay, we passed tree-covered hills and small farms with clothes hung on the line to dry and large piles of wood seasoning beside the houses for winter fuel.
Also lining the roads throughout the Maritimes were beautiful purple, white and pink lupins, so numerous and ubiquitous that “we consider them weeds,” said Bullerwell.
We spent a day in the village of St. Andrews near the Maine border. “It’s a charming town, as close as you can get to New England without going there,” said Bullerwell. “Tourism is its biggest industry. It was settled by Loyalists in 1783. Several of the houses were built in Maine, dismantled and brought across the St. Croix River.”
We took a whale-watching cruise into Passamaquoddy Bay from St. Andrews, where we saw a minke whale, gray seals, porpoises and numerous birds nested on a pock-marked island; ate lunch at a local restaurant; and browsed the downtown shops.
After a casual morning walking around downtown Saint John, we took a three-and-a-half-hour ferry ride across the bay back to Nova Scotia and Digby, considered the scallop capital of Canada.
“Fishermen are in and out every day, so the scallops are superfresh,” said Bullerwell. “If you like scallops, this is the place to eat them.”
I do, and I did.
Land of Acadians
The next day we drove through the Annapolis Valley, a rich agricultural area nestled between two small mountains. “This is the richest farming area in Nova Scotia,” said Bullerwell. “It is mostly known for apples; it is one of three major areas in Canada.”
It is also the land of the Acadians, the French settlers who were forcibly removed in the mid-1700s by the British. Displaced Acadians helped develop Louisiana’s Cajun culture.
Grand-Pré National Historic Site tells the story of the Acadians through a well-produced 22-minute film and informative exhibits at its visitors center. The film is shown in a theater designed to represent the cargo hold of a ship, similar to those the Acadians were forced to ride in on their removal.
“It sets you in the mood like Acadians,” said a guide at the site.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized the Acadians in his famous poem “Evangeline.” A statue of Evangeline stands in front of a 1930s churchlike memorial at the site. “The site is still very important to Acadians,” said the guide.
A Rugged Coast
The landscape took a dramatic turn as we headed down Nova Scotia’s south shore, where the rugged, rock-strewn coast shows the remnants of the mile-deep glaciers that formed the Maritimes.
“Those who have been with us the last three days on the Bay of Fundy, wipe that out of your mind,” said Bullerwell. “The South Shore is what Nova Scotia is supposed to look like.”
The quintessential image of the Canadian Maritimes may be the small fishing village of Peggy’s Cove. Bullerwell had us up early to eat breakfast in Peggy’s Cove overlooking its famous 1850s lighthouse. After breakfast, we leisurely strolled through the picturesque village, where fishing boats were tied to docks stacked with lobster traps and multicolored marker buoys.
Another charming and historic fishing village, Lunenburg, was our lunch stop. A UNESCO World Heritage Town, Lunenburg’s streets are still laid out in a gridiron pattern just as they were by the British in 1763.
We walked through the town with its charming, well-kept houses and locally owned downtown shops and toured the surprisingly interesting and informative Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in a three-story former fish-processing plant.
Another pleasant surprise awaited after we crossed the eight-mile-long Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island. I couldn’t argue with Bullerwell’s assessment that it is “the neatest, tidiest little province.”
“The bright, red sandy soil is so much richer here. The biggest industry, far and away, is farming. It grows one-third of Canada’s potatoes. Even the lupins are a little more purple, the pinks a little more pink,” she said.
Red, Emerald, Sapphire and Green
“Is all of Prince Edward Island this beautiful?” asked Penney Hoodenpyle of Portland, Oregon.
“There is a great pride of place,” said Bullerwell, noting that Lucy Maud Montgomery captured that pride in her series of “Anne of Green Gables” novels in the early 20th century.
“No one loved this island like Lucy Maud Montgomery. She called it the island of red, emerald, sapphire.”
The Anne of Green Gables National Historic Site preserves the house of Montgomery’s grandparents’ cousins, on which she based much of her books. “Yes, it has green gables,” said Bullerwell. The rooms are decorated to reflect characters in the books.
After another ferry ride back to Nova Scotia, we drove over the milelong Canso Causeway to Cape Breton Island, “the real Scottish area” of the Maritimes.
A shipload of 200 Scottish settlers was brought to the island in 1773, and by 1803, 25,000 more had come from Scotland. “Scots felt comfortable on Cape Breton,” said Bullerwell.
Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, also felt comfortable on the island and built a large house near Baddick, where he spent the last 40 years of his life. “Both he and his wife are buried here,” said Bullerwell.
A large museum at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site focuses on Bell’s many other areas of interest. “You will not think of Bell as just the telephone anymore,” said Bullerwell.
A Foggy Fortress
The rugged landscape of Cape Breton Highlands National Park illustrates one reason Scots may have felt so comfortable on the island. We drove the 186-mile Cabot Trail, which meanders in and out of the park, and had several great photo opportunities of its stunning views.
“It is well known worldwide for its scenic beauty,” said Bullerwell.
Rain and fog put a damper on our final stop at Louisbourg National Historic Site, a well-documented reconstruction of a French fortress built in 1713 on the Atlantic Ocean. Costumed interpreters staff the sprawling site, which was reconstructed to one-fifth its original size.
“This is a very authentic 18th-century day here in Louisbourg,” said guide Hilda Bagnall.
However, rain couldn’t put a damper on the trip, which filled us with natural beauty, history, culture, friendly locals and, yes, plenty of seafood.